Humpback whales have been pictured gathering in so-called “supergroups” off the coast of South Africa, and researchers aren’t entirely sure why it’s happening. As reported in PLOS ONE, collections of 20 to 200 of these whales have been documented at least 22 times over the last three or so years.
Some outlets have hinted that this may be the sign of some plot to take over the world – a cetacean coup – but to us, it looks more like a rave. The only question now is whether they were listening to dubstep or some heavy drum and bass.
More realistically speaking, though, these supergroups are probably related to epicurean needs. The team’s paper explains that “feeding behavior was identified by lunges, strong milling and repetitive and consecutive diving behaviors, associated bird and seal feeding, defecations, and the pungent “fishy” smell of whale blow.”
The team of researchers, led by the University of Pretoria, note that the increasing number of summer humpback whales in the region may have naturally led to the coalescing of smaller groups of whales into these larger supergroups, where a buffet of Antarctic krill awaits them.
Normally, these whales dine like they’re losing their minds during Southern Hemisphere summers before migrating en masse northwards to birth their babies. In this case, though, the whale supergroups were feeding further north than ever before, perhaps linked to the greater abundance of krill there – which in turn may be linked to the planet’s increasingly warm oceans.
Around 100 years ago, seeing this many humpback whales off the coast of South Africa wouldn’t have been an unusual sight. However, the practice of whaling reduced their numbers by around 90 percent, and sightings of them off this particular coastline became something of a rarity.
They didn’t necessarily clump together in these whale rave formations a century ago, but there’s a chance that they might have done – perhaps, thanks to the annihilation of their population numbers, we just haven’t seen it for ourselves.
Hey there, humpback. Claude Hout/Shutterstock
Either way, it appears they’re returning to the shores of South Africa. This fact alone doesn’t hint that their numbers have recovered to pre-whaling days, although there is some evidence that their population is indeed growing once again.
Largely thanks to a 1966 moratorium on whaling in much of the world’s ocean, the humpback whale isn’t an endangered species. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, they are listed as “Least Concern.”
[H/T: New Scientist]